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NASA sees no problem recovering Apollo engines

Posted: March 29, 2012

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Billionaire Jeff Bezos, the founder of, says he has discovered massive Saturn 5 rocket engines on the Atlantic Ocean floor east of Florida, capturing the attention of NASA and space enthusiasts.

The Saturn 5 rocket first stage and its five F-1 engines inside the Vehicle Assembly Building before the Apollo 11 mission. Credit: NASA
Using sonar, a team funded by the business magnate located the F-1 rocket engines from the Apollo 11 moon landing mission lying 14,000 feet under the sea, according to Bezos. He said they plan to raise at least one of the engines from the ocean floor.

"We don't know yet what condition these engines might be in - they hit the ocean at high velocity and have been in salt water for more than 40 years," Bezos wrote in an update on the website of Bezos Expeditions, his investment firm. "On the other hand, they're made of tough stuff, so we'll see."

The Saturn 5 rocket's first stage powered the 363-foot-tall launch vehicle to an altitude of nearly 40 miles and a velocity of about 6,000 mph. The first stage featured a cluster of five F-1 rocket engines built by Rocketdyne, then a unit of North American Aviation.

The F-1 is the most powerful liquid-fueled engine ever built in the United States. It generated 1.5 million pounds of thrust, weighed 10 tons and stood 19 feet tall, according to NASA.

The five F-1 engines on the Saturn 5's first stage collectively produced 7.5 million pounds of thrust and burned for nearly 3 minutes. The first stage was supposed to fall back into the Atlantic Ocean about 400 miles east of Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Apollo 11 launched from the Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969. Four days later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to land on the moon.

Launch of Apollo 11. Credit: NASA
"Though they've been on the ocean floor for a long time, the engines remain the property of NASA," Bezos wrote. "If we are able to recover one of these F-1 engines that started mankind on its first journey to another heavenly body, I imagine that NASA would decide to make it available to the Smithsonian for all to see."

NASA spokesperson Bob Jacobs said the agency foresees no problems with Bezos's plan. Bezos sent NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden an email detailing his work.

"The administrator received an email from Mr. Bezos briefly outlining his efforts," Jacobs said. "We are preparing a response and we see no obstacles that would interfere with any recovery attempt."

If his team raises more than one engine, Bezos wrote, he wishes to display one of the engines at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

The F-1 engines remain the property of NASA.

Bezos established a start-up space company in 2000. Named Blue Origin, the Kent, Wash., based firm has won seed money from NASA to develop an orbital crew vehicle, and it has tested reusable suborbital rocket technology at a launch facility in West Texas.

The Atlantic Ocean east of Cape Canaveral is littered with rocket debris from hundreds of launches since the 1950s. Thousands of rocket boosters, engines and pieces of hardware have fallen into the sea since the dawn of the space program.

Another private firm recovered Liberty Bell 7, a sunken Mercury capsule, from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in 1999. Liberty Bell 7's escape hatch blew open after splashing down following a 15-minute suborbital flight in 1961.